Years ago I had a temporary administration job in a university department in central London. The job served its purpose, had its ups and downs and involved a fair bit of filing, a task that allowed one to disappear to a small, windowless room for days on end, certain in the knowledge that one would be left undisturbed for the duration.
I didn’t care much for the filing, the subject codes or whether the students had passed or failed. What distracted me in that tiny room was the personal data contained in those files: places and dates of birth, copies of visa and asylum applications, names of children and spouses – and the names of the students themselves. As the course attracted a large West African contingent, the students’ names were not the mild Sarahs, Janes and Katies I’d been exposed to until then but marvellous things like Promise, Charity, Hyacinth and, my favourite, Dahlia.
That particular name, Dahlia, popped into my head early one morning last week as I photographed a garden given over almost in entirety to the flowers. It’s a life’s work for the owner, who, after 39 years in the same beloved place, is moving on to somewhere smaller in the next month or so.
“That garden’s a bloody mess,” a local landscape designer said when I mentioned it. “My hands itch when I go there.”
She’s right – it is a terrible, overgrown mess but therein lies its most wonderful charm. In that quiet garden I was entranced by the infinite variations of colour and form in this most regal of summer flowers. So, they’re greedy feeders and they’re a bit rampant if left unchecked, but if you’re going to name your child after a flower, I can think of few better options than Dahlia.
I’m to go back to the garden for a reshoot but, Sod’s law, the weather’s turned and it’s raining.